Fujimori on Trial :: Fujimori procesado

Accountability in Action :: Rindiendo cuentas

Fujimori on Trial :: Fujimori procesado random header image

-CONTEXT- Conviction doesn’t settle debate on Fujimori’s presidency

May 13th, 2009 · No Comments

(Dr. Jorge Avedaño, lawyer and former congressman, in interview with newspaper La República. Photo: La República) 

On April 7, Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights violations.  After a 16-month trial in his home country, Lima’s Supreme Court found him guilty of command responsibility in two death squad massacres and kidnappings during his presidency.  Yet this sentence, widely considered a landmark for bringing former leaders to account, has far from resolved the controversy surrounding the ex-president’s heavy-handed rule. 

Fujimori held office from 1990 until 2000, when he fled the country after a massive corruption scandal and resigned from the presidency by fax in Japan. Though many Peruvians have credited him with suppressing the subversive groups that terrorized the country, the methods Fujimori used to combat these groups have been largely debated.  Now, despite having been condemned for abuses, the debate on Fujimori’s presidency continues.

A survey by pollster APOYO published on April 19 revealed that 26% of Peruvians think the sentence should be stronger, 25% think it should be lighter, 19% agree with the sentence as is and finally 27% believe Fujimori is innocent and should be acquitted.

Fujimori sympathizers have claimed the verdict was based on political bias.  Keiko Fujimori, pro-Fujimori Congresswoman and daughter of the former president, told press that the sentence against her father was “full of hate and vengeance.”  Congressman Carlos Raffo, also from the pro-Fujimori political party, assessed the verdict as a triumph for subversive group Shining Path. 

Others have hailed the verdict.  Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa considered the verdict a warning to dictators worldwide.  International human rights organizations also applauded the decision as a victory for the rule of law. Denis Jett, US ambassador to Peru from 1996-2000, asserted the sentence is “important for Peru, Latin America and the world.” 

Gisela Ortiz, sister of one of the victims in the La Cantuta massacre, said she was “completely satisfied” with the verdict, which also recognizes the innocence of the massacre victims.  “I believe that that is the most important part of this sentence because it repairs the memory of our family members,” she told journal Latinamerica Press.

On the other hand, some Peruvians have echoed Fujimori’s defense lawyer, César Nakazaki, in claiming there is no proof that incriminates the former president since he did not sign a document authorizing the massacres.  However, others say this is not necessary to prove the theory of command responsibility. 

Lawyer and former congressman, Dr. Jorge Avedaño, asserted that despite criticisms, the sentence is “legally unquestionable.”  It has been proven that Fujimori headed the counter-subversion policy and that the National Intelligence Service depended on him, “thus he had command,” he told local newspaper La República in an interview. 

The Peruvian Penal Code states that in order to demonstrate command responsibility the person accused must have headed a chain of command and used this hierarchy to carry out illicit orders. 

Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo highlighted the importance of the case in Latin American autonomy in an article for Spanish newspaper El Pais.  “The conviction of Fujimori establishes that dirty rags can be washed at home,” he wrote, which is helping Latin America gain institutional independence from the United States.

Though Peru has succeeded in setting a precedent for international law, the continued debate on Fujimori’s presidency could end in a sudden reverse.  For the moment, the former president’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori, is the favorite candidate in polls for the 2011 presidential elections and promises to free her father if elected.  Due to Fujimori’s appeal of the verdict, the final ruling is expected around September or October of this year.